Industry rallies round Western Greyhound after arson attack

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The charred remains of a Volvo Olympian double-decker
The charred remains of a Volvo Olympian double-decker

Hired in buses have come from seven operators and two suppliers, as far away as Blackpool and Norfolk

Western Greyhound MD Mark Howarth has revealed the extent of the support his company received after the disastrous arson attack at its Summercourt bus depot.

The fire was started around 0100hrs on May 13 at the bottom of the yard in one of the VOR buses and very quickly spread to adjacent buses due to a very strong wind.

Mark said: “I was phoned by a neighbour at 0120 to say there was a fire in the depot. I got up and immediately left for the depot. As I approached, I knew it was serious as I could see flames leaping high in the air.

“When I arrived, three fire crews were already trying to control the fire and more appliances had been requested.

“The emergency services concentrated on saving the buildings, workshops, fuel tank and adjacent houses and none were affected by the fire.

“Miraculously, just as the fire had reached the nearest bus to the workshops, the wind suddenly dropped and the fire services got the fire under control.”

Western Greyhound (WG) lost 35 vehicles: two E400 double-decks, four Dennis Tridents, eight Volvo Olympians, three Mercedes-Benz Vario/Beavers, 11 Optare Solos, five Mercedes Citaros (four of which were Truro Park and Ride liveried buses). 14 out of the fleet’s 19 double-deckers were destroyed. In addition, the Dennis Javelin driver training bus and heritage Bristol VR 259 were destroyed. None of the other heritage vehicles were affected.

Mark continued: “By 0430, we had the core team assembled and the Business Continuity Plan swung into action. Once we had an understanding of how many buses were saved, we prioritised what we would operate. Arriving staff were aghast at the destruction, some clearly very emotional. People were stunned that while buses were still on fire in the depot, buses were leaving to go out on service.

“We worked closely with the media and were able to inform passengers of the situation. Our social media went straight into action so we could keep passengers up to speed in real time. Despite losing a third of our fleet, we lost no journeys on the Truro Park and Ride, most main line routes or school contracts. Temporary schedules were immediately introduced for staff and buses, so that by Wednesday, all major routes had a reasonable level of service.

“Within hours, phone calls and messages were coming from all over the industry, not just with messages but with practical offers of help and buses. Very quickly, buses were arriving at Summercourt from other operators and, once inspected and prepared, were straight out into service. We soon had a substantial percentage of the operation running normally.”

Hired in buses have come from Stagecoach (Darts and Solo), Blackpool Transport (Solos), Norfolk Green (Solos), Anglian (Beavers), Carmel Coaches (Beavers), Summercourt Travel (B6), NCT (Solos), together with demonstrators from Optare (Solo) and Evobus (Citaro) and others are on their way.

Marc Reddy immediately offered free acceptance of WG tickets on First buses for displaced passengers. “This was a wonderful gesture, much appreciated by the public,” said Howarth.

Mark wanted to thank the industry, trade, suppliers and many others for their absolutely amazing support: “It just shows, that although the Competition Commission would like to us competing against each other, when the chips are down, everyone pulls together. I would also like to thank all of our staff who have been marvellous. Everyone has pulled together and they want to see WG normalised as quickly as possible.”

Passengers have also been very supportive and there have been hundreds of positive comments on the company’s Facebook site – www.facebook.comwgbus

WG is now running close to normal, and now the situation has stabilised, attention is turning to the longer term replacements.

Police are treating this as an arson attack and anyone with information should contact the police on 101, quoting crime reference number GC/13/151.